NEW YORK — Susan Tabak doesn’t run a contraband operation. But when it comes to acquiring those fashionable items that are most difficult to come by, this rail-thin brunette, lunching today at the best table in the restaurant, is your woman.

Desperate for the tutti-frutti Louis Vuitton/Takashi Murakami bag in impossible-to-find black before it hits stores in June? She just returned from Paris with two.

This story first appeared in the April 3, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Angling for an appointment at JAR, the world’s most exclusive jewelry boutique in Paris? She’s known the master himself, Joel Andrew Rosenthal, for 15 years.

Looking for that special-occasion vintage gown? Tabek’s Rolodex boasts the numbers of the best vintage dealers in Paris.

“I’m the ultimate Francophile,” purrs the 47-year-old New York sophisticate who looks as if she could have jumped out of a Danielle Steel novel. Her profession is equally Steel-esque; she’s a personal shopper who leads her fashion-obsessed clients to the best spots in every arrondissement. “I find the hidden Paris,” she says, between tiny bites of her seared tuna. “I have sales and contacts everywhere. If you speak the language, doors just open.”

Having frequented Paris since her teens, she turned her shopping habit into a part-time job in 2001. “People would always say, ‘Susan, where’d you get that?’”

Her knack for sniffing out new shops and trends has served her well. “Hairdressers are the best source of information,” she declares, although her latest find, the boutique Minapoe, came via a Chanel salesperson. Today, she’s accented her black Prada top and pants with items she plucked from Minapoe’s depths — a delicate shawl spun in threads as bright as a peacock and an equally colorful blown-glass ring that looks like a small sea creature.

But Tabak’s expertise doesn’t come cheap. She charges $1,500 a day — even if her clients walk away empty-handed. She goes to great lengths, though, to make sure that doesn’t happen, customizing itineraries to suit her clients’ tastes and booking appointments in advance. “I always overbook — just in case,” insists Tabak, who typically meets her clients for breakfast and then escorts them around the Right or Left Bank until closing time. Discounts occasionally come along the way but “I can’t guarantee it,” she says, citing the economy as a factor.

And those classic Parisian street protests can also pose problems. When the war broke out two weeks ago, an antiwar demonstration kept her from crossing the street to reach Yves Saint Laurent and Prada. But generally, shopping with Tabak is smooth sailing — as long as clients adhere to her golden rule: “Don’t wear sneakers.”

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